Whitecaps show brain and brawn in gritty 2-1 win over Portland - The Province


By Marc Weber

Thursday's USL-1 semifinal first leg turned out to be as much a mental test as a physical one for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

They can claim superiority in both facets after a 2-1 win over the first-place Portland Timbers at Swangard Stadium that sets up a dramatic second leg Sunday at PGE Park.

Seventh-place Vancouver dominated much of the opening half. They led 1-0 on Charles Gbeke's header goal.

But instead of leaving for the locker room to rapturous applause, it was referee Geoff Gamble leaving to lusty boos — and a pair of projectiles.

Gamble awarded Portland a controversial penalty kick seconds before the halftime whistle that Ryan Pore cooly converted.

Whitecap Lyle Martin was adjudged to have handled the ball at the top of the box on a frantic series that ended with Brian Farber shooting the ball high into the defender, who was a yard or two away.

It seemed more a reaction from Martin to protect his face than an action carrying intent. That it came so late in the half, and after so much one-way traffic, could have sunk the Caps mentally.

Instead, they charged out after the restart and Gbeke played set-up man in the 49th minute, finding Marcus Haber for another great header finish.

But as much as head coach Teitur Thordarson will lament Gamble's decision, he'll be upset with a lack of finish that could come back to haunt his club.

Vancouver could have been up 2-0 in the first half. Luca Bellisomo fired Martin Nash's cross over the bar in the sixth minute and Haber missed a pair of chances by inches.

Second-half substitute Marlon James enjoyed two quality chances but his finish isn't where it was mid-season, before a third leg injury.

Portland finished first during the regular season at 16-4-10 and scored more goals than any team (45). They were an impeccable 6-1-8 on the road, too, but Thursday perhaps showed the rust of coming off a bye week.

Or perhaps Vancouver is simply peaking at the perfect time.

Sunday's game is 4 p.m. on Fox Sports World Canada.

In the other semifinal, No. 5 Montreal beat No. 3 Puerto Rico 2-1 at home.

© Copyright (c) The Province